March 22, 2014

The power of Poe-try

Dalton Middle students flash mob ‘Annabel Lee’

By Christopher Smith

— Richard Gleeson of Dalton thought he was just buying a Chick-fil-A sandwich and some waffle fries Thursday morning at the fast-food chain’s West Walnut Avenue location. But he got a lot more than he expected.

As he sat down with his wife Evie to enjoy their early lunch, several young faces stood up and began reciting Edgar Allen Poe’s tragic poem “Annabel Lee,” simultaneously speaking in two languages: English and American sign language.

“What is happening?” Gleeson told his wife, wide-eyed and confused. He said later he finally figured out what was going on and was “charmed.”

Students from Susan Ward’s seventh-grade class at Dalton Middle School put on Poe flash mobs at area restaurants last week to show off what they’ve learned in class, reciting “Annabel Lee” to the surprise of anyone within earshot.

Mitchell Arthur, 13, said “it’s part of our standards to do public speaking in front of anyone. And knowing poetry. So we all decided to recite ‘Annabel Lee’ to the public.”

Ward, who said this is the second year she’s hosted a flash mob with her students, is a self-proclaimed Poe aficionado. She said she “first met Poe” in high school, but wanted to expose her seventh-graders to his often morbid and tragic classic poetry earlier than most students in other school systems.

Sam Carlson, 13, said learning about the poetry is “a lot of fun.” He’s a big fan of “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

“It’s from the point of view of a murderer, a psychopath who killed an old man,” he said. “It’s scary and fun.”

A lot like getting up in front of strangers who aren’t expecting you to recite a poem.

“It’s fun to see the reaction of people,” Sam said. “When we did it at Zaxby’s, there was this guy who had his tray of food and we started it and he just kind of stopped and looked around. He was kind of freaked out, like ‘OK, what’s going on?’”

Ward said she originally wasn’t going to do another flash mob this year.

“Once you’ve done it, it seemed like it was done,” she said. “But my kids from last year and parents were all saying, ‘You have to do it again because it was the best thing.’ So I thought about doing something different. I thought sign language would mean a lot more, be more impactful. I had a teacher of the deaf come in and teach the students sign language to go with the poem.”

Despite loving all of Poe’s work, “Annabel Lee” is Ward’s favorite, she said.

“It’s long and challenging and amazing,” she said. “Of course, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ was the one I read first and that’s scary stuff. That’s actually how I hook seventh-graders. They think it’s cool. The boys really like realizing that Poe is from Baltimore, thus the Baltimore Ravens.”